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An Open Letter to the Dev Team from the Product Owner

By Teri Ross on February 18, 2015
Steven Johnson, Where Do Good Ideas Come From?
Dear Dev Team:
As you know, I spent two days last week at Product Owner School. It was an informative and humbling experience. As with many meaningful educational experiences, I discovered just how little I knew about what I was doing and how much more there is to learn. Apologies to you for not having gotten it right the first time (or any time since).
The beauty of scrum is that it allows you to fail early and to learn from your failures. Scrum gives us the opportunity to turn our failure into improvements and ultimately success. Success for us -for ILAO - is a level playing field for all with civil legal problems, regardless of demographics.
Me and the 11 other product-owner participants, facilitated by our trainer, Peter Saddington, spent our first hours together dissecting the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto. We discussed the inherent problems with waterfall development (high risk and prone to failure). We learned about the empirical process of scrum, which employs a scientific method.
Here were my key, high-level takeaways:
  • Transparency is king - we must communicate openly and often to be successful; this allows for timely validation and course correction
  • Complex systems can only be understood by talking them out; face-to-face communication is best
  • Shared understanding can only come from visual collaboration and discussion
  • Users don't know what they want until they see what they don't want
  • We will never find the best answers within our organization; survey, survey, survey - share, collaborate, discuss - survey some more
    [summed up by my favorite quote from the training, from W. Edwards Deming, "In God we trust, all others must bring data."]
  • We don't know until we do; don't think - execute
Many of these concepts are summed up by this cool 4-minute video by Steven Johnson - Where Do Good Ideas Come From?
The training was packed with other, more practical exercises and information. One of the more shocking ideas was that the goal of project management is to build almost nothing. Another is to ditch requirements, as requirements produce waste. My role as product owner is to reduce waste.
We product-owners-in-training also spent time discussing best practices and processes for development and team success. Here are some things I suggest we implement soon:
  • Create a Working Agreement. This is the team's discipline. It is a set of rules drafted by the team that they agree not just to follow but also to enforce. See this article for more info.
  • Develop User Personas. NN/g just featured this in their weekly Alertbox. In our own community, this was also used by Matthew Burnett and his team in their ambitious CitizenshipWorks 2.0 product.
  • Plan and implement quarterly Release Planning. This should have been done prior to any sprints. Ah well, better late than never. Or, as the Agile Manifesto says, "welcome changing requirements..."
Team, now that I am a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (ahem!) (that registered mark is required, by the way), I see how little I know and how much I have to learn. Thanks for all your great work so far. See you soon at the daily scrum -
Your Product Owner, Teri

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